Chapter 6 – Deep Within

Here’s the good thing about other people’s nightmares: they usually don’t seem so bad for a third party viewing them. What seems scary for one person might just get a shrug from someone else wondering why they should be scared.

Here’s the bad part: the Nightmare layer still exaggerates things, so you might find yourself getting some new nightmares to your own collection if you have bad luck.

Sharon’s Nightmare layer is a black void area filled with cockatrices roaming it, human-sized animals that are a mix of a dragon’s body with a rooster’s head. Some of them are seen fighting parasites, with many of their opponent’s turned to stone.

Among the beasts are people walking about, and their fates are not pretty: they have been maimed and gutted and mostly looks like walking corpses, except not those typical zombies that people think of. They are screaming in agony and pain, wishing for their lives to end. While everyone is unknown to Aléi, Ashling can make out the body of Zach, Sharon’s friend. This is the only one he can recognise though, as Zach is the only other person from Sharon’s world who has access to The Meeting Place.

Other than that, they don’t recognise anyone else. Until they see other people from The Meeting place, that is, including themselves. Nightmare Ashling seems to have suffered some severe burns, and nightmare Aléi has some severe cuts, her armour is torn and broken, and she’s stumbling forward. All of them have empty, white eyes.

“I can’t see the gate anywhere,” Aléi says after a quick scan. One would think it would be obvious to find in such a desolate area.

“Wait, that’s it?” Ashling exclaims surprised, throwing Aléi off the loop.
“What’s it?”
“This!” he says and gestures over the field of horror before them. Aléi can detect a bit of disappointment mixed in with his disbelief. “Giant chickens and zombies! Two things!”

Aléi has no clue what either a chicken or a zombie is. But before she gets to ask, Ashling continues, his astonish still there.

“Normally people have more than two fears. Martin really needs to start flesh us out more. This is… well, disappointing!”
“You are angry that this area isn’t, I assume, as dangerous as they usually are?” Aléi replies, still taken aback by the sudden outburst. Ashling calms down.
“Suppose I shouldn’t be. Let’s just find the gate,” he says after a sigh.
“But where could it be?” Aléi wonders, once again giving the landscape a scan.

Ashling taps her on the shoulder to get her attention. He then points straight up. Aléi looks up.

Among the darkness of the void, Aléi can make out something that differs from the rest, a small purple spot.

“I really need to look up more often…” she mumbles to herself.

The two decide to start ascending, leaving the cockatrices and dead people to their fates. Unfortunately the Nightmare layer has different plans, and the monster chickens notices the two not-dead flying people. In an effort to stop them, many of the cockatrices take to the sky to pursue.

To make matters worse, storm clouds form and soon the ‘sky’ is filled with dark, thick clouds that only briefly get illuminated by lightning. The rain that falls is blood.

Aléi sees a cockatrice heading for Ashling, so she hastily flies up to it and with one mighty swing chops its head off as lightning strikes and thunder bellows. The creature’s head falls down and gets lost in the clouds, but the body keeps pursuing, albeit slightly more erratically now when it can’t see.

Assisting Aléi, Ashling turns around and with both his guns fires some bullets at the other monsters, only stopping them by a bit. Aléi’s attacks are far more efficient, leaving the cockatrices no time to attack as she delivers one dangerous and powerful attack after the other.

Moments later, the gate is reached. They have no time to stop and explain what the last layer, the Core, will include.

*

The Core turns out to look slightly similar to how the Nightmare layer first appeared: it’s a purple void, but with no defined ‘ground’. It also feels like it has a defined end, as if they are inside of a huge sphere. Speaking of spheres, in the middle of the void is a massive purple sphere with black spots all over. Also in the area are various types of parasites; Bugs, Brutes, and other types Aléi hasn’t seen before. Some of them are specifically built for flight. They all seem to be attacking the core.

Before Aléi has the time to ask what’s going on and what they should do, Ashling gives her the answer. “This is the last layer: the Core.”
“I suppose we need to destroy the parasites?”
“Yep, a good old classical extermination,” Ashling comments and readies his guns. This is by far the most dangerous part. “Are you ready?”
“Strangely enough, yes,” Aléi says, surprised by her own answer.
“Good, because here they come!”

Having noticed the intruders, some of the parasites turn away from corrupting the core in order to attack. Despite the Bugs not having any normal means of flight, they float effortlessly in the air towards Ashling and Aléi. Aléi also notices she’s flying without even meaning to. Apparently this is how the Core layer works.

Ashling takes initiative and flies towards one of the parasites, firing some bullets as he approaches. When in melee range, the guns are gone and he delivers a powerful punch using knuckledusters.

Aléi waits until the parasites gets close before she strikes. She easily dispatches one of those bug-human parasites. Her second opponent is a flying parasite. It looks like a dark moth, and its red eyes stares at Aléi, never letting her out of sight and never blinking.

It’s really fast, and swoops around Aléi with blinding speed, circling around her until the moment she can’t keep up. It uses this moment to latch on her back and inserts two tendrils into her ears. She screams out in pain and can feel how the world starts distorting as if she’s dreaming.

The moth is too close for her to be able to use her weapon, so she tries to shake it off, unsuccessfully. She feels how things are starting to make more sense as the moth keeps draining the lucidity out of her.

Suddenly the moth lets go as it was forcefully stabbed. Ashling had summed a katana and rammed it straight through Aléi. He pulls it out and she falls backwards, but doesn’t fall, just floats in place.

He snaps his fingers a bit in her face. “Okay, you are dreaming, come on!”

Suddenly she regains lucidity.

“Did you just stab me?” she blurts out, checking her body for a wound where the katana hit, but finds that she’s unharmed. “What happened to me?”

Ashling turns around so that he can shoot at the other parasites, but explains what happened. “When you are dreaming you can’t really get hurt. If you are lucid, however, you think you got hurt and therefore feel the pain and effects. Yes you got stabbed, but because you were in ‘dream mode’…”
“What would have happened if that thing kept doing… whatever it did?”
“It could have started an invasion on your mind, but other than that just wake you up.”

Just wake you up. That didn’t feel so dangerous. Aléi suspects it might be a hassle to get back this deep though, but what Ashling didn’t explain is that you are unable to have any Dreamer dreams for a while, effectively cutting you off from grand mind adventures for the rest of the night.

The two clear out the next wave of parasites, and Aléi switches up her attacks by trying to summon some fireballs. She’s seen enough of that magic having been used in her own world to effectively use it herself.

After a few waves, the number of parasites have quickly dwindled, although the two have sustained a bit of damage.

“Only a few more to go. Let’s keep it up,” Ashling cheers. Aléi nods.

It’s at that time another parasite emerges from nothing. This one is about three times as tall as an adult human and looks incredibly buff. It has sharp claws and horns. Its red eyes fills whoever looks into them with dread.

“Uh oh, a Nightmare,” Ashling worryingly says as he floats a bit back from the monster.
“Nightmare? I thought we did that layer already?” Aléi asks. She also floats back mainly because of Ashling.
“This is a parasite known as a Nightmare. They are incredibly strong and dangerous, much stronger than the Brutes.”

The Nightmare launches itself forward with astonishing speed, with seemingly no acceleration time. Aléi has no time to react before she’s rammed and pierced by the claw.

Ashling backs off, firing at the monster, but the bullets disappear before they even get a chance to hit. It worked as a distraction though, as the Nightmare now targets Ashling instead. It moves up close to him to attack, but he’s ready. He barely dodges though, and he feels how he loses lucidity just being close to the monster.

Just then, Aléi goes in for a sneak attack, but despite not looking at her, the Nightmare seems aware of it and knocks the sword out of her hands. Aléi simply re-spawns the sword and attacks again.

“Watch out!” Ashling shouts shortly before he detonates a bunch of C4 he had thrown at the monster. Aléi manages to back out in time and the beast is engulfed in a cloud of fire.

Unfortunately this was not enough, as the monster still stands. It quickly attacks Ashling again, this time causing a deep wound in his left leg. He screams out in pain and sees the blood emerging from the wound turning black.

Meanwhile, Aléi once again used her imitator abilities to work, and using a giant great sword powered by the strength of the Nightmare, she slices the beast clean in half. It flails around as it slowly disintegrates. What’s left of it is just some powder.

Successfully fighting off the blood corruption, Ashling notices the Nightmare is gone and decides to give Aléi a victory high-five. He changes his mind though once he sees how she looks. Having copied both the Nightmare’s strength, agility, and endurance, Aléi now looks almost like a miniature version of the Nightmare. Her eyes are still her own though.

“You okay?” she asks, worried.
“Y-yeah,” Ashling says after a moment of silence, relieved. “Let’s get rid of the corruption on the core.”

NEXT CHAPTER

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